Do not write angry; it only dilutes the power of your pen. Compose instead with cold, calculating, concentrated conviction. Let each and every word carry weight, worth, and wrath tempered and honed by authorial skill. Your end must not be reactionary revenge, but rather the smashing of lies by light and the destruction of oppression through free thought. Never forget that truth has a way of being contagious; that the honest revolution is not sparked by force, but by the revealing of an inescapable, inevitable choice. It is up to you, the writer, to clear the path to that choice and hold aloft the lantern which guides the way.
These are the words I find hidden in Martin Abel‘s sketches, lines of prose where he believed only pencil lay. He posted this drawing and, per usual, I immediately connected with it and saw through to the universe he creates when he composes images upon a page. I just thought I would share a little example of how our collaborative efforts usually begin: with my overwhelming love of his work.
Though the plucked flowers which adorned her flowing hair were bright with spring’s nectar, her heart grew cold, her summer soul seizing sickly, wrought with the frost of winter death. Some would insist it was but a melancholy autumn mourning, but she knew far better; one’s spirit could not survive such loss, would not. A thousand years and a thousand tears could not wash that which the great waters have taken away. The sea, in its crushing depths, holds strong those it grips; such drowned souls do not wander afterlife shores.
She turned to the heavens, heavy with dejection. The stars shimmered. Were those who were lost amongst their number free to swim through the dark expanse? She believed they must. Did they move with light speed to return to the lovers whom they left behind, brilliant comets with homebound intent? How could they not? Burning suns, millions upon millions of lifetimes away, their lights were not impeded. Then too must their explorers, incorporeal as they may be, catch those pulsing rays and slip once more into wives’ and husbands’ embraces.
But not hers.
Sailors, the ones who dreamt close but deep, the ones who shunned the stars for the sea, played lottery with their lives. They teetered upon and peered into Hades’ abyss, the sort of darkness through which came no light, from above or below, a hellish landscape of lost souls, clutched forever by the greatest of weights. And so he was gone forever, his sight never to fall upon her eyes again.
Those same eyes wept powerless tears; powerless to extract her grief, powerless to return her loss, powerless as brackish brine against an ocean’s salty current. And yet light poured upon her face, stars running down her cheeks, a spirit whose light would never traverse the divide which so split her soul.
The ocean roared. Within its growl came the cries of countless souls, and she heard. She screamed back, the wailing sound of her grief all she had, a foghorn cry to reach where no lighthouse fire ever could.
She wept, and wept, and wept. Even in her unending misery, she was thankful to have at least this. God pity the souls who ventured nowhere, whose whole essence lay buried beneath six feet of shovel-packed dirt. No light, no sound, no spirit could bridge that regretful gap.
It was this knowledge, and this knowledge alone, that kept her blood from freezing in the cold night air, still warm within her veins, returning to a heart which would ache for a time longer than memory could ever hold.
A poem is the breath that was taken away, and a short story but poetry spun and woven into prose. A novel is a puzzle whose pieces are stitched of short stories’ fabric, and the great works of literature are those whose pages hold many novels, told all at once, a beautiful, perfect chaos composed of countless breaths, each ringing true and pure and profound. And thus is life returned to us, captured in timeless essence and bound by something stronger than book glue, more powerful than pressed ink: the need to share that which overwhelms the heart and overflows the soul. This is why we write, because we long back for the breath that the universe has taken from us. This is why we read, in the hope that another has found the same.
How I have longed the year-round for this eve, when death and life are made one, as youthful celebration grants joyous immortality. Eternal are our souls, given that we ever once lived, ever once loved, ever once felt the cool of autumn air upon our cheeks. For though the jack-o’-lantern’s light flickers and vanishes into but a wisp, its memory still burns bright, even through darkest night.
The wind is whipping the ocean surface into churning whitecaps, tossing the tall ship high and catching her bow low. The acidic sting of vomit still burns my throat, and my stomach refuses to settle. My eyes glaze over as another wave of nausea strikes. I’ve nothing left to wretch, but wretch I do. With knuckles paler than the foamy spray that splashes aboard to wet them, I can no longer feel my fingers.
Though the sun shines brightly, it is frigid in the shadow of the sail, this cold, disheartening reality lying in such stark contrast to the free-spirited verse of many a poetic constructor, I amongst their naive flock.
Subconscious thoughts of regret begin to surface, but my heart spurs their blasphemous advance. My brain is throbbing, screaming at this tumultuous upheaval of balance and order, insisting its end. I will not listen, for such a voice is death, the sort which seems seductively short and subtle, but is in reality long and drawn out, miserable and lonely.
“You don’t belong here,” it states. “No human was meant to traverse such a treacherous thing.”
Breath alone escapes my lips.
“You see that woman over there, the one crying, screaming out, begging for mercy? At least she can publicly admit what you refuse to see: This is not the place of inspiration you so longingly wish it to be, but instead exists solely as a fabrication, a falsely-conceived metaphorical blanket in which to wrap your pathetic search for purpose. That knot in your gut is more than seasickness; it is the undeniable knowledge that I am right.”
I hear only the wind against the sail.
“Your silence betrays you. Where are your grand stanzas now, wordsmith?”
Mustering the strength to stand up, I haphazardly walk across the deck to the opposite rail. I stumble the way there, my body barely holding it together. I vomit again into the sea, my sacrifice to the endless blue. Spitting the terrible taste from my mouth, I raise my eyes to the horizon, to the small chunk of land which looms ahead.
It screams now, desperate. “All this hell but for a few lines of verse, you damned fool!”
More than verse.
My eyes lift higher, to the lighthouse atop the cliff. Set against a cloudless sky, a mighty pillar suspended between heaven and earth, it calls my heart, sings with a voice louder than any that has ever haunted my mind.
I am aware of the pain, yet I don’t care. I heave overboard again, forcing my eyes from the ivory tower, but never my soul. Even but for such a momentary flicker of beauty, all of the journeys through hell and back are made joyous, and my heartbeat given purpose.
The voice is mute, the pain fading, the memory forever.
The gelato shop door stands unassumingly small and plain against the chaotic, loud world outside, a tiny portal that beckons quietly. I pass through to find her waiting behind the counter, smiling, magic wands disguised as small spoons at the ready.
I request a taste of Vanilla Bean, and one of the magic spoons dips into the peppered, milky white dream. The cold flavor melts upon my tongue, but it is not Vanilla Bean at all. It is the ether canvas upon which to paint life-long loves, the cool evenings of forever summers, spent sitting at the large table by Nana’s side, her smile and cup of tea perfectly warm.
Dark Chocolate comes the next spoon, but it too is not. It is the bittersweet memory of young adulthood, of growing older and losing the past that was, while your face still bathes warm in the glowing embrace of what is yet to come. I long for that past, and so I tumble into it.
Fig & Marscapone—perfectly sweet. I am so small, the tree seemingly so large. Climbing the branches, tucked away in a fortress of fruit and foliage, I hide, an adventurous, mischievous moment all to myself. I pluck a fig leaf from its stem, fascinated by the size and shape.
It takes what seems like but an eye’s blink for the Hot Masala Milk Chocolate to melt away the sweetness of a childhood crush and give way instead to the fiery passion of a first kiss.
Guinness, those college days in the company of close friends. We laugh impossibly long laughs, tomorrow never a thought nor a care.
But tomorrow came and went, and with it I find myself standing here, before the windowed counter, looking at chilled bins overflowing with times and tears, people and places, memory strong in them all.
One final spoon is offered, but I refuse. Pistachio. “I don’t eat it,” I insist. “Do you trust me?” she asks, knowing. I take it. Hesitation. Papa splits the shells with his fingers. His hands are worn, knobby, still strong. The sound as the nut’s hard casing beaks. The green on his fingers. Mom is beside him, the small tray between them. The sand is warm, our bare feet buried in it. The cassette player pours Andrea Bocelli’s flawless voice into the summer air. I smile at Nana next to me, hiding from the sun under her wide-brimmed hat, scarf pulled tight about her neck. I cannot see her eyes behind the dark sunglasses, but I know that they are filled with love as she smiles back. Time is stopped, perfect. Forever perfect.
The spoon slides slowly from my tongue as tears wet my cheeks. I turn to the gelato maker and ask, overwhelmed, voice quivering, “How? How did you do it?”
Her expression of joy and delight never changes, hasn’t yet once. “I made it with passion, filled it with love. And then I gave it all back to the world to enjoy. That’s the secret . . . to making gelato, to living life.”
I take two tubs and her advice, promising to return again.
Two years ago, during the late, January nights of 2009, I spent many hours in front of the computer composing poetry in the digital company of Martin Abel. These were still the early days of our friendship, and we were both discovering our desire to inspire the other with our respective crafts. Learning of a shared intense interest in the steampunk genre, several of those early poems centered around the surging might of complex mechanisms and the thrill they could bring to man’s power-seeking heart. One in particular stood out to us both, and still does to this day. While it has always been our intent to turn this into a short illustrated work, for now only the words exist, iron bones awaiting copper skin. We both hope that the opportunity will arise in the future to carry out our original vision, but in the meantime I give you my half of what was almost our first official collaboration.
This is my lab, my workshop,
My private world of peace,
Filled with cogs and gears
Full of grime and grease.
Black soot covers the walls
And gray ash litters the floor,
Byproducts of mad mother science,
That grand desire to build evermore!
Master plans lie on tables,
Corners flat with spare parts.
They hold tomorrow’s secrets,
The keys to iron hearts.
But front and center’s the thing,
My great ambition made true.
It lies beneath blackened cloth,
Hidden from world’s view.
But now the time has come
For my opus to be revealed.
At long last the door will open
That was so tightly sealed.
So pull back that cloth,
Behold the great machine!
See its clockwork guts,
The most complex you’ve ever seen!
Ignite the main boiler!
The lever’s right there.
Witness the grand genius
I’ve wrought in my lair!
Hear the pressure building,
And see the pistons engage!
Smell its belching smoke,
Feel the steam god’s rage!
There’s no stopping the future;
The wheels are set in motion!
The world will now revolve
On vapored locomotion!
It’s been a year of foundation building and steady steps forward, and the new year promises to hold great opportunities. A huge thank you to all of you who have been following me on this creative journey; your support helps keep me pushing onward!
I am going to be upfront and straightforward in stating what might not have already been inferred by the title of this particular work: I am about to review a children’s book, the kind with big pictures and short, simple sentences. This might seem an odd choice for someone like me, who would supposedly tend to prefer wordier and weightier fare, but I am absolutely in love with this book and utterly compelled to share my wonderful discovery of it with those whose eyes will happen to fall upon this page.
I owe this extremely pleasant bit of happenstance to my local Barnes & Noble, which invited (as I now know) local author/illustrator Bob Logan to read and sign The Sea of Bath. In anticipation of this event, they had a few copies propped around the store with placards announcing its details. The cover illustration of a sea captain aboard a small sail boat immediately caught my eye, and I had to pick up a copy to investigate further.
The book’s short but fanciful plot involves the captain of the S.S. Rubb A. Dubb venturing through the strange waters of a child’s bathtub. However, our hero is unaware of the true nature of his bizarre ocean, and perhaps always will be. Yet, this does not deter his journey one bit as he marvels at the weird creatures he encounters.
I tumbled madly into love with this book as I turned its thick pages. Logan’s artwork is alluring in its simple beauty and positively eye-catching from cover to stern, and the story was one pulled straight from my childhood. Having a lifelong obsession with the sea from a young age inevitably led to many bathtub adventures involving stormy waters and brave captains with strong ships and stronger wills. And here, through Logan’s work, I saw those same grand stories come back to life, rushing and bubbling up from deepest memory, a creature from the truest core of my heart, wrapping its tentacles once more around my imagination.
This is the book I want to read to my future children, to their children, and to their children. I want to buy another copy and read it to my beautiful niece and bouncy nephew, to give them even just a little bit of that sense of wonder which captivated me as a young boy.
Perhaps this seems a bit much praise for a children’s book, but Logan has struck a harmonious chord in me by putting forth into the world a simple work that speaks to that growing seed in a child’s mind that there are grand and exciting and endless adventures that await us, even if those journeys begin (for the moment, anyway) only in our bathtubs and imaginations. The Sea of Bath is the grain of sand around which the pearl of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea forms. Our paths all begin somewhere. And, thanks to Bob Logan, our children have a wonderful place to start.
It was a great disappointment that I was not able to make the reading/signing event whose promotions brought this book into my life, but Logan graciously left a few copies behind, the title pages signed and scrawled with doodles. I purchased one of these, and I shall cherish it always. I do hope that the future holds a day where I might get to meet the man behind the work, but for now I will have to settle for the beautiful footprint he has left behind. I look forward to the next footprint, and the one after that, and so on, down a path that will surely be a joy to follow.
It is the cycle that has governed the universe since time began. From life came death, and from death, life. Gears turning, iterations advanced, ascension ever the goal. Enlightenment must be reached, the spirit made whole and pure. Eyes to the infinite heavens, we yearned to know the Creator. In God’s mind must reside all answers; in His heart, all happiness.
We pushed the boundaries of our being, the limits of space and time and all quantifiable things. We left the earth behind and became of the stars. Burning bright for all our planet-bound existence, the sun and its fires smoldered deep in our souls. We had no knowledge of what lay beyond or before, but we believed. The darkness stretched forever, but still we pushed onward.
Death stalked our ships, but could lay no permanent claim on us. For each that died was born again, crafted of our communal spirit. It puzzled us that this act of God should occur without the revelation of His hand, but such was the knowledge we sought.
Generations came, generations went. Still, we persisted. We, of course, fought Death’s advancements, but could not conquer It any more than It could truly conquer us. Ebb and flow, life and death, light and dark—nothing more than states of being for the Constant we could not yet fathom.
Finally, there came the time when it was but me left, the last to exist. The souls of my brethren welled up within my own, for mine was the lone body for all of humanity. Death laughed in my final throes as I clenched with pain the heart that contained the very spirit of my race. The light faded, and the darkness came.
But in the darkness, once more came light. We understood. We saw. God held us tight in the palm of His great hand and We were one with all. When He opened His clenched fist, it was the butterfly of Our enlightenment that flew away to engulf the entirety of the universe.